James N. Klapthor

The late-June release of IFT’s recent Expert Report Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System earned the attention of major and niche news media, whose resulting coverage of antibiotic use in the production of food animals has, in turn, raised awareness of the controversial issue among general and specific audiences.

Released during this year’s IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® in Orlando, the Expert Report was delivered in advance to select reporters at some of the nation’s major news outlets.

The Chicago Tribune identified messages that are touted by some organic meat producers as conflicting with assessments provided by IFT and its expert panel. On Monday, June 26, the day the Expert Report was released, the Tribune’s coverage, "Organics’ edge questioned—Antibiotic-free foods not necessarily safer for people, study says," was the lead story on the front page of its business section.

The article said that marketing campaigns in the last decade by organic food advocates have suggested there is an overuse of antibiotics and that antibiotic-free foods are better for human consumption. Expert Panel chair Michael Doyle’s response to the story angle was that the IFT report "does raise questions about those groups using this as a basis for their promotion of organic and natural products."

The Tribune, one of America’s largest newspapers, with a circulation of more than 600,000 issues daily, arguably often determines the topical news issues of the day in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest metropolitan market and possibly the most influential media market on issues involving the business of food.

In the city that day, cable television superstation WGN Ch. 9 aired its coverage of the IFT Expert Report during its hour-long noon news program that reached more than 200,000 viewers within local area alone. Additionally, the Tribune Co.’s local CLTV cable news channel ran versions of the story every hour from 3:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.

Placed by the Tribune onto its Knight Ridder-Tribune news wire service, the article was also published by the Houston Chronicle, Newark Star Ledger (New Jersey), Charlotte Observer (North Carolina), St. Paul Pioneer-Press (Minnesota), and other newspapers. The circulation figures for those four newspapers alone surpass 1.5 million.

National cable news outlet Fox News Channel also picked up the KRT wire copy and aired coverage on the report to more than 800,000 viewers, as did New York’s FOX affiliate WNYW Ch. 5 to nearly 400,000 viewers tuned in that night. Interest among news outlets was such that national cable news outlet CNBC contacted the temporary IFT news room at the Annual Meeting in Orlando in the (unfulfilled) hope that it could gain Doyle for a live interview within its tight deadlines.

By the end of July, 77 news outlets reaching an audience of nearly 9 million had published or aired coverage of the IFT Expert Report.

As can be predicted, where there’s news and controversy—two terms that are very often interchangeable—there is opposition ready to add its voice to the debate.

Within a day of the Tribune’s original article, the Organic Trade Association posted information contradicting statements within the IFT report. The following week, on its July 6 editorial page, the newspaper ran a reader’s response that challenged the IFT Expert Panel’s report And in its Sunday paper on August 6, the Tribune’s health and fitness columnist reintroduced the issue in the consumer "Q" section. The Tribune’s Sunday paper boasts a circulation of nearly 1 million.

In the Omaha World Herald (Nebraska) in July, coverage of proposed United States legislation that would phase out nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals gave IFT and Doyle another route to deliver the report’s message. "In some cases in Europe," the article said, paraphrasing IFT, "eliminating antibiotic drugs used for promoting animal growth resulted in increased disease among the animals, more antibiotic use and more resistant bacteria," a case for maintaining prudent use rather than eliminating it. "There can be unintended consequences," Doyle was quoted as saying.

For his willingness to speak with journalists on a spirited issue, and for their diligent efforts to produce scientifically sound and substantive—and, as proved from the coverage noted above, unpopular—opinion, IFT Media Relations offers its gratitude to chairman Doyle and the entire Expert Panel.

by James N. Klapthor,
Media Relations Manager
[email protected]